CAIRO: National and international childcare groups met Tuesday to outline the minimum standards that must be present in any institutional home or orphanage across Egypt.
A minimum standards document places guidelines for homes and institutions in matters such as privacy, protection from harassment, the quality and environment of care and even hygiene.
The roundtable discussion, was called for by the Wataneya Society for the Development of Orphanages NGO, inviting childcare experts and organizations to help draft the document.
Among those present were the Arab Council for Childhood and Development, UNICEF, Plan Egypt, Handi Cap Int., AUC’s Gerhart Center, Pricewaterhouse Cooper, Dar Al Orman Association, as well as owners of various orphanages and orphaned youth.
Dividing childcare criteria into six pillars of standard such as building and facilities, building and facilities, staffing, management and administration, the groups spent the day brainstorming for new ideas that other orphanages can easily endorse.
According to Mona El-Shibiny, founder and board member of Wataneya Society, the document and the organization should act as a “consultant to all orphanages.”
“We spent two years conducting a survey to understand what the sector was like … We found out that all orphanages had the same challenges: under-qualified and high turnover of staff, no standards, and everybody does whatever they want.
“Instead of building another orphanage that would be like any other, we decided to … join forces and meet today,” she said.
Measuring the standards and their application is yet to be developed through a list of key indicators in the upcoming period; so far the NGO has conducted the survey and met with with orphaned youth and consulted with other child specialists.
“At Wataneya Society, we have gathered a group of pillars and indicators. … What remains is consultation with different groups,” said Abdel Hamid Kabeish, rehabilitation consultant, and delegation president of Handicap International.
Created in 2008 by Azza Abdel Hamid, founder and chairperson, Wataneya Society aims to create “the first society to forge and place an educational and psychological footing in orphanages,” according to Abdel Hamid.
A personal experience led Abdel Hamid to undertake Tuesday’s and other initiatives. She recounts neglecting an orphan, who was attached to her, for more than 10 years. At 17, he paid her a visit and asked to live with her as her son.
“This experience frightened me and taught me also that my role has to be a moral and human one, and that is part of what we are trying to translate in the document,” Abdel Hamid said.
Kabeish believes that the second step will be consulting with other groups regarding the phrasing of the document. The third phase would be presenting the document to the Ministry of Social Solidarity.
“We’re aiming to standardize orphanages. Our goal is to have our work nationalized, so we have already opened talks with the ministry,” El-Shibiny added.
Many experts agreed, however, that the application of the document on the ground will require specialist training sessions, which NGOs such as Wataneya Society will mostly provide.
Non-governmental childcare groups will follow up with the ministry and provide resources whenever the ministry falls short.
“Civil society groups in cooperation with other institutions will support and fund this process. Orphanages and childcare have always been a civil society initiative, in any case,” Kabeish said.
“For the government [ministry of social solidarity] to play its supervisory role to its best, it must undergo a revolutionary transformation in its system. The government does not have technical capabilities to follow up or supervise orphan care,” he added.
Maha Allam, owner of the Basha’er Fagr Orphanage, said the approach of those supervising the orphanages must change, and “that can be taught through training.”
Despite many challenges, Wataneya Society is already making feats with regards to collaborating efforts on the document, and is set to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Arab Council for Childhood and Development.
By 2014, the NGO aims to have applied the minimum standards document on five pilot orphanages, have the government adopt the document, and spread it to the entire Arab world.